Disability not a disadvantage in the workplace

Posted October 13, 2011, by Andrea Riddell

When looking to fill vacant positions, businesses want to hire the best possible candidate. Often this means that people with disability are overlooked in favour of those who may appear to be more fit and able. Stereotypical but erroneous beliefs can mean employers miss out on a valuable pool of resources and experience – especially when you consider that one in five Australians has a disability.

Basic assumptions are made – often unconsciously – about what a person with disability can or cannot do. However, research has shown that there is little difference in the productivity between people with disability and those without.

The benefits

There are many benefits in choosing to hire people with disability. The Australian Network on Disability (AND), an organisation that promotes the inclusion of people with disability in all aspects of business, encourages employers to tap in to the diverse range of skills, experiences and abilities of people with disability to gain new perspectives.

‘Organisations that understand the impact of disability on their customers will reach a wider market. Businesses that fail to make their products and services accessible to people with disability, or don’t build their expertise in welcoming customers with disability, risk missing out on a great deal of business,’ says AND spokesperson Rachel Butler.

Hiring people with disability also helps businesses to embrace their corporate social responsibility (CSR), promote a diverse workplace and raise team morale.

Safeway in Rosebud West, Victoria, is one of the many businesses leading by example and hiring people with disability through Disability WORKS Australia (DWA), an organisation that helps to find placements for people with disability.

Assistant store manager Simone Blake says, ‘We wanted to help someone with a disability in our local community. Employing somebody with a disability gives the whole team a lift and helps to positively change the store culture.’

Apart from enhancing the reputation and brand of the business, employing people with disability can also have long-term fiscal benefits. According to a Safe Work Australia study, workers with disability have lower rates of absenteeism, a lower number of workplace injury and, as a result, lower workers’ compensation costs than people without disability.

AND has also stated that people with disability tend to stay loyal and committed to their employer and show higher retention rates than employees without disability. Increased tenure reduces the costs of training and integrating new staff into the business.

‘By accommodating people with disability organisations are gaining loyal and committed employees who will support them in achieving their business objectives,’ says Butler.

It’s easier than you think

Common misconceptions are the biggest barrier that people with disability battle in attempting to gain employment. Employers often believe that the costs associated with hiring people with disability are high. More often than not only simple adjustments are required to make the business disability-friendly.

‘Many adjustments are cost-neutral while research has identified that where costs are incurred, around 80 per cent of those adjustments are under $500,’ says Butler.

Research has even shown that many employers believe the benefits of hiring people with disability outweigh any associated costs. In some cases no adjustments need to be made at all. Disability can come in all shapes and forms and while some disabilities may be obvious to the naked eye, many others are more discreet.

Another method of creating opportunities for people with disability includes job splitting or carving. This involves breaking off certain tasks from other positions that are hard to fill to create new roles for people with disability.

Holden Hill Police Station, South Australia, turned to DWA when they couldn’t find a permanent employee with transcript typing skills willing to perform the repetitive tasks of the position.

Administration manager Doris Andrew hired Sonja Veitinger, who was referred to her by DWA. Veitinger’s vision impairment meant that she could not fill the administration role so Andrew split the task of transcript typing from the general role and employed Veitinger on a part-time basis.

‘By being creative with the role we’re getting retention in this job, providing a solution to one area of skill shortage and proving to be more cost-effective,’ says Andrew.

Veitinger required computer program JAWS and a dual headset to transcribe the police tapes and the police station conducted an assessment of the workplace to identify and make any adjustments.

‘By investing in the right person you will reap the benefits. There is room in generic jobs to carve duties and provide opportunities for people with a disability as well as assisting businesses with areas of skill shortages,’ says Andrew.


There are many organisations dedicated to helping employers recruit people with disability. These organisations can help you to make any necessary adjustments to the workplace and can provide ongoing support.

The Australian Network on Disability (AND) is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the employment of people with disability. AND works with employers to help them become ‘disability confident’ and engage with people with disability as stakeholders, employees and customers.

Disability WORKS Australia (DWA) is a national body that facilitates the provision of employment for people with disability. DWA is a point of contact for employers looking to recruit people with disability. You can alert them of any job vacancies you have and they will match the position to an appropriate worker with disability.

With long-term benefits not only to the business but also to society and the economy, hiring people with disability is an investment in the future.

Andrea Riddell

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